Republican rhetoric about health care doesn’t reflect reality.
The Senate will vote Tuesday on a motion to proceed that would bring a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act to the Senate floor. The details of that bill are still unknown to both the senators voting on it and to the public, but earlier versions of the bill proposed by Senate leadership are projected to leave between 22 and 32 million more people uninsured within 10 years.
These are staggering numbers. But it’s the persistent rhetoric surrounding those losses that is even more disturbing.
Many Republicans in Congress have become so doggedly insistent upon getting this political win — repealing the law they’ve promised, for seven years, to repeal — that the arguments for doing so have taken a dark turn.
Some lawmakers, for instance, have cited Scripture to implicitly suggest leaving tens of millions without access to health care is acceptable because the poor and sick deserve their fate.
“Just like Jesus said, ‘The poor will always be with us,’” Rep. Roger Marshall (R-KS), told Stat News in March. “There is a group of people that just don’t want health care and aren’t going to take care of themselves.”
Other lawmakers have framed the lack of access to health coverage as a misguided personal choice.
“You know what, Americans have choices. And they’ve got to make a choice,” former Rep. Jason Chaffetz said in March. “Maybe, rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and they want to spend hundreds of dollars on, maybe they should invest in their own health care.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) even suggested that healthy people should not have to subsidize health coverage for the sick — despite the fact that healthy people subsidizing the higher costs for covering sick people is quite literally how the health insurance industry works.
Ryan, Chaffetz, and Marshall ultimately paint a picture of a world divided between poor, sick people who make unhealthy choices and wealthy, healthy people who make good decisions to care for themselves — and suggest that only the latter group deserves access to health insurance.
But this isn’t how the world works. It’s a false dichotomy these congressmen and their colleagues have created to promote their bill, which would make deep cuts to Medicaid funding and restructure the insurance markets to price out the people most in need of health care.
I was 21 years old and living a healthy, active life when I needed my health insurance the most.
Twelve weeks ago, I was running a half marathon in New York City’s Central Park when my hip gave out. I sat on the side of the road and in a medical tent for a while waiting for what I thought was a cramp to subside.
It didn’t. Eventually, an ambulance took me to the emergency room, where x-rays revealed I had broken my hip. The part of my femur that makes up my right hip had cracked. The doctors think I developed a stress fracture while training for the race that progressed until the bone fully gave out.
I was put in another ambulance and taken to another hospital, and within hours, I was having emergency surgery. A stellar orthopedic trauma surgeon “unzipped” my right thigh and put in four screws that will help hold my hip together for the rest of my life. I have an objectively very cool-looking scar a foot long down my right leg.
The recovery sidelined me for weeks. I couldn’t get out of bed without help. I was on crutches in New York City for a month. I still use my cane occasionally and go to physical therapy twice a week.
Today, twelve weeks and two days after my hip gave out from underneath me, my medical bills have soared to more than $18,000. The ambulance rides each cost more than $1,000. Just last weekend, I got a $3,450 bill for the anesthesia application, a number that doesn’t include the surgery itself. When I was finally able to leave my apartment, I began outpatient physical therapy. Every appointment costs $341.
Without health insurance, my injury could have very literally bankrupted me and my family.
The fact that I am young, physically active, financially privileged, and have health insurance at all makes me luckier than most people. But I still ended up in a situation — one I did not choose, one no one would ever choose — that has been exhausting and terrifying and expensive.
Millions of people around the country are not as fortunate as I am, and faced with the same circumstances, they would be unable to properly heal.
Others have shared their own personal stories about just how vital access to affordable health care is, including former Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) and late night host Jimmy Kimmel. Their stories make it clear that the false dichotomy promoted by proponents of these Obamacare repeal bills does not reflect the reality of health care in America.
No one chooses their health scares. And no one can predict when they might move between the GOP’s narrowly defined “healthy” and “sick” categories.
If Republicans believe the government has no role in providing health care to its people, that’s what they should argue. We could have a more honest policy debate on these terms. But instead, many congressional Republicans are taking a personal responsibility tact — arguing there will always be people who don’t take care of themselves, or that people without health insurance simply choose not to have health insurance, or that responsible “healthy” people shouldn’t have to take care of irresponsible “sick” people.
This line of argument creates an “us versus them” mentality. But the “them” doesn’t exist.
I was young and invincible. Then I got a lesson on why everyone needs real health insurance. was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.